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Kesler has new mates after old line 'disintegrated'

by Arpon Basu /
MONTREAL -- Ryan Kesler looked to his left and looked to his right Thursday morning, and was left wondering what happened.

What he saw was Mason Raymond and Jannik Hansen on his wings at the Vancouver Canucks' morning skate, two brand new faces just two games after Kesler's regular line had a breakout game.

Kesler, Chris Higgins and newcomer David Booth had exploded for a combined nine points in a 5-1 win against the Calgary Flames on Sunday. But Higgins missed the next game Tuesday night against Colorado with a staph infection in his foot, leaving Hansen to fill the void.

Then Booth took a knee-on-knee hit from Avalanche defenseman Kevin Porter, spraining the MCL in his knee, an injury that will cost him four to six weeks.

So, for the Canucks' game against the Montreal Canadiens on Thursday night, Raymond will grab Booth's spot, and Kesler has himself a brand-new line.

"(My line) disintegrated," Kesler joked Thursday morning.

"To lose both my wingers, it's kind of a shock to me," he added later. "One game we put up nine points together, and the next game I don't have my two wingers."

While Higgins is not expected to miss an extended period of time -- coach Alain Vigneault said once the cut on his foot heals enough to allow him to put his skate on, he should play -- Booth's absence is especially sad for a player who looked to be finally finding the form that made him a one-time 30-goal scorer with the Florida Panthers.

His career was derailed Oct. 24, 2009, when he absorbed a monster hit from Mike Richards, then a member of the Philadelphia Flyers. He came back later that season, but struggled to find his game until he was ultimately traded by the Panthers to the Canucks in October.

Since being put on Kesler's line with Higgins on Nov. 25, Booth had 3 goals and 2 assists in five games when he was injured.

"He was playing well for us, David," Kesler said. "He was one of those guys where it was his first time being traded, it was probably a shock for him. He really started to turn it on, playing the hockey he probably wanted to be playing. He was producing, our line was producing."

Moving Jansen and Raymond up to the second line has ripple effects down the rest of the Canucks' lineup, with rookie Bill Sweatt making his NHL debut on a line with Maxim Lapierre and Cody Hodgson while defenseman Andrew Alberts will be playing on left wing on the fourth line with Dale Weise and Manny Malhotra.

"Those are two big parts of our team and two guys who were playing well for us," Kesler said. "So those are two big shoes to fill, but it gives guys opportunities, so hopefully they can seize that."

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